A/N Riiiight! So here is the next chapter of the forest series. Here I have added some stuff instead of changing them. I'm curious to see whether anyone picks the reference to another RPG game that I placed in this chapter. Hope you enjoy the new versions better than the old ones. Still looking for a beta, by the way… just so you know if anyone wants to help.
"What in the name of the Creators is happening here?" an angry female voice demanded getting up from the ground and pulling Merill with her. The newcomer was also an elf, with dark blond hair tied in a short ponytail and furious green eyes. She was wearing a fine looking leather armor, as well as leather boots and fingerless leather gloves. On her back she held her quiver and her bow, who were now sitting crooked due to her fall. The arrow had wounded her shoulder and blood was not flowing from the cut, but it did not appear very deep.
"Arianni!" Hawke gasped in surprise upon looking at the elf woman. She no longer wore the rags of the Alienage and looked as she always should have, like a proud Dalish warrior.
"Well met, serah Hawke! Now what is this nonsense, Athenos? Shooting arrows at your own kin! And you, Merill! Why did you not duck?"
The elf mage shot her a look of utter distress and Arianni understood that she still blamed herself for the events that took place in the Dalish camp. Athenos, on the other hand, was as vengeful as ever. He took out his hunting knife prepared to finish what he had started. Both Hawke and Anders now had time to react and positioned themselves in front of Merill to shield her.
"Get away from that thing, Arianni! I will go through her friends and finish them as well, but I will have my revenge. She killed the Keeper!" he cried out "She destroyed our clan! She's a filthy blood mage!"
"And you are a blind fool," the woman spat in rage. "The Keeper was possessed by a demon. Had she lost her control she would have killed us all!"
"So they say," he accused.
"NO, so I say for I have seen what happened," Arianni bit back and Hawke looked at her in surprise. She had been there, with them, when Marethari was possessed?
"I do not understand what is happening here," Lanaya interfered, "but I see terrible events took place in your past. You only told me that your clan was no longer able to stay united, Arianni, and therefore you and Athenos left to find another clan. I see there is more to this story than I have known."
"There is, Keeper," Arianni stated softly, "and this young one should have been able to protect herself from Athenos and tell you everything herself. But since she is so guilt ridden, I will tell the tale for her." She paused and took a deep breath, then started her tale:
"When I was young and foolish I met a merchant from Antiva called Vincento. He was a handsome one and knew his way with words so I fell in love with him. I believe, at one point, he loved me too. However, when our child was born he no longer wanted anything to do with us. So I remained in the Alienage and raised Feynriel by myself. As he grew, he started showing magical abilities, but I hid him, wanting to protect him from the Circle. Still, as years passed, he began developing nightmares. First they were rare, one or two a month, but soon,he started having more and more and they became really intense. I contacted a Templar, Ser Trask who I knew would help me. But Feynriel ran away before he could go to the Circle. Hawke and Merill were the ones to find him and protect him. They sent him to live with Merill's Clan that was stationed on the Wounded Coast. However, even there he was not protected. His nightmares took over him and Hawke entered the Fade to save him. It was revealed he was a Somniari and everyone agreed it was best if he was sent to the Tevintar Imperium to learn to control his powers."
Lanaya listened to the tale in silence, hoping to understand what caused Athenos to be so bitter and Merill to feel so guilty.
"After Feynriel left," Arianni continued, "I had no reason to remain in the Alienage. I went and joined Merill's Clan and saw, as years passed by, how the Keeper became sadder and more worried than ever. She started keeping to herself more and more, ignoring those around her. A few times I even saw her alone, in the dead of the night, whispering incomprehensive words to the darkness surrounding us. So I stood and waited, for I knew that every time something was wrong, Hawke would make an almost magical appearance. Thus the day came when Merill arrived accompanied by Hawke and another elf to our clan. They followed the mountain path and went to see the strange idol that was rumored to have kept the soul of a demon trapped inside. It was located in a cave, near the mountain top. A few minutes later, the Keeper went after them and so I panicked, thinking that something must be wrong. I followed them, being silent as a shadow and reached the mountain top a few moments after the Keeper."
She closed her eyes, recalling the events that took place during that day, ignoring the sting of her tears at the corner of her eyes. It had been too much to bear seeing the Keeper turn into a demon and now, recalling it was even worse.
"The Keeper explained that the demon was no longer in the idol. Merill had wanted to ask it something and hadn't found it there. The Keeper admitted to have taken the demon inside her in order to protect Merill. She was afraid that the demon would have tried to possess the mage and she loved Merill as if she was her own daughter. She wouldn't have bared seeing her in danger. But the Keeper was losing control and the demon took over her. The only thing that could be done was kill Marethari, otherwise the demon would have killed everyone. During their fight, the walls of the cave shook as if an earthquake hit them and a large rock fell from the ceiling. I managed to duck it, but it fell trapping me between it and other boulders. I was barely able to move and nobody could see me there. By the time I got out the Keeper was dead and our clan was in pieces. Despite the fact that Hawke had protected Merill some of the hunters of our clan rushed to Kirkwall to kill the mage."
Merill glanced at Hawke, bewildered and the look of utter wretchedness she saw on the other's face was enough to convince her that Ariannin was telling the truth. It also told what had happened to said clan members.
"Oh, Hawke…" Merill gasped and tried to stifle her tears.
"We tried to reason with them," Hawke admitted lowering her gaze to the ground, "We tried to explain, both me and Fenris. But they would not see reason and they attacked… we only defended ourselves."
Arianni nodded and looked at Athenos… he was still mad, but there was remorse and guilt in his eyes as well. He was ashamed to have reacted as he did, but at the same time, he did not want to apologize.
"The rest of us scattered everywhere," Arianni added," Athenos and I decided to find a new clan. I do not know what happened to the others."
A loud noise interrupted her story and she looked at her former clan member. He had thrown his weapons to the ground and strode to his tent, wanting to hide from everyone and everything.
"I think I understand better what happened," Lanaya said with a sad voice. "Such tragedies occur rarely among the Dalish and their impact is bigger. You shouldn't blame yourself, young mage," she turned to Merill, "every parent always does what it's best for his child. Marethari wanted to protect you, even if she chose the wrong path to do so. However, I am afraid I must ask you to leave. I would have gladly welcomed you to remain a few days with us and rest, but in light of the current event I am afraid it will do more harm than good. I will make sure to give you enough food and healing supplies to last for some time, but I'm afraid I cannot offer more."
"We understand, Lanaya," Anders interfered politely, "It would do no good to put salt on his wounds. He needs to recover and understand what really happened."
Next to them Arianni was holding Merill in a tight hug, while the petite mage cried. At some times the older elf whispered soft words in her ear trying to ease her pain, while rocking her like a child. She knew Merill had loved Marethari and she understood why it was so hard of the mage to let the past go.
Hours later the trio had returned to the road, feeling much better than they had left in years. Hawke was glad to have met Arianni again and see her life had turned much better than it had been, Merill was finally starting to forgive herself and Anders was actually trying to practice the meditation techniques Lanaya had told him about. All in all, they were in much higher spirits.
The road was winding in front of them and by the time the sun had reached its peak they had traveled a great distance from the Dalish Camp. Hawke remembered her father's words from when she was little and he was training her and Bethany:
"Never use magic when you're mad, Sera! No matter how good of a control you think you have, magic is unpredictable and can react in unknown ways. Always count to ten and clear your mind, then fire a spell."
It seemed as if her father was using the same practices as the Dalish, at a smaller level. Still, although in the long run the news did not help very much, by piecing up bits like this they had a greater chance at changing the way people view mages.
As distracted as they were, they did not see the group that surrounded them, a group of people whose faces were painted and whose clothes were made from animal skins. They watched the travelling trio in silence, until, at one moment, their leader made a small gesture and his men closed up on the travelers. Hawke and her friends halted.
"Halt!" the leader of the group said with a heavy accent, "You are getting close to a Chasind tribe. You may not pass any further!"
Even though the Chasind were mostly peaceful tribes, they had their share of secrets they had to keep and were therefore less than inclined to let anyone pass their borders. When they were able, they chased strangers away peacefully, but when they were not, their bows and knives did the talking for them.
"We mean you no harm," Hawke raised her hands in the air in an offering of peace. "We were trying to make our way out of these woods after meeting with the Keeper of a Dalish Clan. We had no idea we were trespassing."
"The Dalish allowed you in their camp," the leader asked in surprise. "That is almost unheard of. Yet I see that you are mages and cannot help but wonder what are three magic wielders seeking to find in the Wilds."
The three travelers looked torn… on one hand they also wanted to learn off the Chasind's methods to train their young mages. On the other hand was it prudent to reveal their motives? Hawke gazed at her friends trying to see what they thought of this situation.
The leader of the group gazed at them strangely and said:
"Long time has passes since we have met a man worthy of being in our tribe. Long indeed… However, you seen to have the blessing of the spirits surrounding you as you have stumbled about this place unharmed. Perhaps the gods wish us to allow you passage. Come with us…"
Hawke and her friends followed obediently, wondering if they were making a mistake or if they actually had the chance to learn something useful. The Chasind led them down a winding path, going deeper and deeper in the heart of the forest. They passed a group of oddly shaped rocks and moved passed two caves that looked as if they harbored wild animals inside them. After almost an hour of twists and turns they finally arrived at a series of oddly shaped huts and tents that were hidden from view by tall, looming trees. People clad in animal skins were moving here and there, some preparing lunch for the tribe, women tending to the children and elders, holding crude carved staffs, sitting by the fire and smoking a strange weed.
The trio was directed towards the leader of the tribe, an old and wrinkled shaman that stood next to the biggest tent observing the bustling of activity with stern, but concerned eyes. His hair was long and white, braided with red beads. His eyes were silver grey, stern, unmoving, like those of the Qunari. He was not a tall man, but despite his age, he held himself with the dignity required of a tribe leader.
"Elder," the leader of the group stepped forward and gave a bow, "I bring before you these strangers that we found wondering the woods. They claim to have been admitted by the Dalish in their clan. They are magic wielders."
"So I can feel," the elder's voice rang deep in the woods, "Speak strangers! You claim to have been in the graces of the Dalish. How did it come to be so? Can you prove your words?"
In that moment Merill stepped forward and bowed as she had seen the leader of the group before her. The elder's eyes widened seeing a Dalish in his clan.
"Andaran atish'an, Elder!" the petite mage greeted the shaman, "It is an honor to be allowed to see your tribe. My friends and I have been received by Keeper Lanaya courtesy of one of my kin, Neria Surana the defeater of the Blight. She allowed us to present an amulet left in her care by a hunter of the clan in order to prove our good intentions. "
"You would have been enough, I believe, young one," the Chasind elder laughed, "There is no amulet more powerful than the call of blood. You were one of their own. For me that is enough, I do not wish to see that amulet. It is a token that should have remained in the Slayer's hands. Tell me, what do you seek in these woods? "
"Fire and ice threaten the land…" Merill said softly, "Change is coming swiftly across Thedas and I do not know whether my kin or the Chasind will be able to fight it. Asha'bellanar herself advised to caution. All we can do is find our place in this changed world. We wish to learn more about how mages are trained within the clans and the tribes in hope that we will also be able to make a change."
" 'tis a most simple practice," the shaman said calmly. "The children that prove they have the ability to become magic wielders are trained by the tribe's shaman as soon as they show the signs. They are thought how to focus and understand the elements. They listen to the wind… watch the fire… understand how the rain falls and touch the earth… when they grow older they use weed from the swamp in order to focus better and channel their attention."
"Swamp weed?" the trio asked in surprise.